Covid-19 has put a damper on the theatrical experience. It’s hard to remember what it was like to share a perfectly good laugh with a room full of strangers. But here we are, sitting in our living rooms with either our friends or family enjoying a film of their choosing from the comforts and safety of home. And to be perfectly honest, comfort and safety play a large role in “The Croods: A New Age,” as the sequel takes very few risks and has minimal emotional stakes. Despite those shortcomings, it’s a charming sequel that makes up for its lack of originality and warmth with a handful of witty jokes and a zany colorful design that pays homage to the Flinstones.
The original “Croods,” which was released over seven years ago, ended with the adventurous teenage Guy (Ryan Reynolds) joining Eep’s (Emma Stone) pack, much to her father, Grug’s (Nicolas Cage) objections. And it appears that they were able to work things out at the start of “A New Age.” Now the pack, along with Grug’s wife, Ugga (Catherine Keener); Epp’s brother, Thunk (Clark Duke); and the grandmother, Gran (Cloris Leachman), embark on all sorts of adventures across the land and sea.
Everything seems to be comfy and cozy until the pack comes across something they have never seen before, a large wall. But Guy believes that they have found their Tomorrow. In “A New Age,” Tomorrow isn’t a concept of time but rather a utopia free of the dangers of large predatory chimeras hunting them and has plenty of food to eat. However, it is a piece of land that has already been claimed by the Bettermans. The family sees themselves as slightly more evolved than the Croods. They use technology to provide a safe home for their daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran) and improve their domestic life, agriculture, and transportation.
Though The Bettermans don’t give the Croods a warm welcome that they deserve. They are condescending towards their new guests. What’s more, they use their familiarity with Guy as a catalyst to drive the Croods away from their home. With Phil Betterman, the patriarch of the Bettermans, offering to take Guy off Grug’s hands so that Grug can keep Epp from straying from the pack, and Hope Betterman, the matriarch of the Bettermans and Phil’s wife, reminding Ugga that life within the walls doesn’t suit a cavewoman.
The sequel plays like any sitcom you’ve seen before where two families from very different spectrums find themselves at odds with each other. The obnoxious Bettermans believe their way of life allows them to demean the primitive Croods. Tomorrow’s technology is reminiscent of “The Flintstones,” where the Jurassic beasts and nature aid in rudimentary plumbing, transportation, and fashion. Even the pacing feels the same as the film goes through the same motions with a cold opening. Then the two families are driven to be rivals. And finally, everything comes to a happy resolution.
Although the humor is subpar and narratively thin, it is hard to overlook the bright and colorful production design. Even the creepy creatures have a degree of cute and cuddly to them. I won’t ruin the animal combinations that director Joel Crawford and his team came up with, but let’s say they are that perfect blend of strange and adorable.
Another great aspect of “A New Age” is that we get to see Cage’s unfiltered manic energy on full display. These aren’t just frenzied grunts and wacky chest-thumping. Everything Grug does is to protect the familial pack. So a certain extent, his protectiveness of Epp comes off as smothering. Grug’s distress becomes more apparent as Epp and Guy grow closer together during the film’s opening. Soon, the father’s worst fears come to light as Epp hints at leaving to form a pack with Guy. And so, the film falls into the familiar sitcom pratfalls of an overprotective father doing anything to keep the beloved daughter from eloping the handsome and charming boyfriend.
And Reynolds matches that energy without missing a single beat. His character also has great chemistry with Stone’s Epp, although they adhere to the sitcom relationship formula. Still, it’s a lot of fun to see them go through those motions we are familiar with. And it’s great to see what sisterhood would be like in the stone age, especially when all the females in the film form a new hunter-gathering pack.
Though “The Croods: A New Age” may have a contrived script, it makes up for its lack of originality and cliché humor by letting its terrific cast run free into a world that is lush and colorful. The animation is nothing short of spectacular as it adds to the vibrancy of the film. And in a way, its hindering formulaic sitcom structure is a bit nostalgic for the adults, while the cheesy over-the-top humor will be a hit for the kids.
It’s important to note that this critic watched “The Croods: A New Age” from his home. While the film does open in theaters on Thanksgiving, it will be available to watch on VOD 17 days later on December 12, 2020. How you decide to watch is up to you. Just be mindful of the safety protocols that are set to keep you safe during this pandemic if you do make the choice to watch it in a theater.